Jenna MacMillan and Ann Thurlow film debuts at IMAF
by Laurie Brinklow
For as long as I’ve known Ann Thurlow, she’s been writing stories in her head. While washing dishes or dropping off to sleep, the long-time CBC broadcaster, journalist, and editor creates quirky characters mired in unlikely situations—then shares them with her friends. Now—not content to publish a short story or a book—Ann has teamed up with Jenna MacMillan to make a film of one of those stories.
Called Sweethearts, the 12-minute film premiered at the Island Media Arts Festival May 8. Featuring total newbies Norma Jean MacLean and Chris Francis alongside actor Lennie MacPherson, the film tells the story of a vintage store shopkeeper who goes home every night to her deadbeat boyfriend. When customer Chris, who is sweet on Laura, finally gets up the nerve to ask her over for dinner, she agrees—with hilarious results.
Ann says, “The movie is about food: Jeff can cook, and Chris can’t. Everyone knows somebody like Jeff—the stoner who collects records and organizes them by sidemen. But they can’t all cook.”
Ann wrote the script just after Christmas, and they filmed it during a blizzard in February. Says Jenna, “Everyone came—even shoveled the sidewalk. They just wanted to make a film.”
“Everyone” included a team of visual and media artists who generously offered their time and considerable talents for free. Kelly Casely and Roger Carter offered their store, The Green Man, for the film’s primary location. “Even my mom (Mary Beth MacMillan) volunteered her incredible cupcake design skills,” laughs Jenna.
Ann says writing the script was easy. “At CBC I produced hundreds of pieces of video and audio. How to structure a story is ingrained in my heart. Once I got used to the idea that I could make people say what I wanted, rather than finding clips, it just kind of went.”
Jenna graduated from Toronto’s Ryerson film program in 2010. “I worked in Toronto for a year on various film projects but struggled to make my own films. When I came home to make Fine Tuning last summer, I fell in love with the community. I’ve already made more films here than I did in Toronto. And here you can get coffee shops and vintage clothing stores to open their doors without having to pay $1,000 a minute.”
Indeed, the film cost $400 to make—much of it to buy candy for the counter scenes.
Next up for the duo are two companion films to Sweetheart, and Jan Rudd’s Mrs. God, of Drill Queens fame, for which Ann and Jenna are planning a fundraiser this summer: a screening featuring three of Jenna’s films: Sweethearts, Fine Tuning, and the documentary Redheads on Redheads—plus a visit from Mrs. God herself.
Ann says making Sweethearts was a team effort. “I was just so impressed that nobody brought any ego into it. It’s the ethos of here that allows such projects to happen. Everyone just wants to help each other. Where else in the world can you say, I think I’ll make a movie and then just do it?”